We have nothing to fear but fear itself

If bullying is to be properly addressed, we must learn to tolerate and accept highly targeted youth subcultures, writes Noel Baker

IF you take a walk through Cork city centre, or Temple Bar, one question might strike you: Where have all the punks gone?

Preliminary research by a lecturer in psychology at Trinity College Dublin has indicated that some people who belong to a youth subculture, such as the goth or metal scenes, are statistically more likely to be bullied, and that some who are viewed in the study as being more “conformist” are more likely to carry out the bullying.

However, the research, based on a survey of more than 800 secondary school students by Dr Stephen Minton, also highlights another interesting point: How few teenagers, relatively speaking, view themselves as a member of a youth subculture.

Could it be that in a more homogenised society, with fewer people adopting the look and attitude of groups such as mods, punks, ravers, or whatever else you might fancy, those who do are at a higher risk of being targeted for bullying and abuse simply because they stand out from the crowd?

Sylvia Lancaster certainly thinks so, and she has her own, painful, reasons for caring.

On August 11, 2007, her 20-year-old daughter Sophie and her boyfriend, Robert Maltby, 20, were beaten to death by a teenage gang in a park in the Lancashire town of Bacup.

When the case went to court the judge ruled that it was “a hate crime” and a recording of a call made to police was played before the jury. The caller said: “This mosher’s just been banged because he’s a mosher... his bird’s on the floor as well.”

The behaviour of the ringleaders of the gang — and their parents — made news in itself, with police remarking about how the attackers did not seem to grasp the gravity of what they had done.

Sophie, who had dreadlocks and multiple piercings, was killed, the judge said, “because she was a goth”. Two people are serving life sentences.

Sylvia still lives at one end of the valley, with Bacup at the other. In Ireland this week to deliver a number of lectures, she says she has considered leaving the area, but as yet has refused to do so.

“I suppose it’s really because my son is still in the valley, and you think ‘hold on a minute, why should I be the one to go?’,” she says.

Sylvia runs the Sophie Lancaster Foundation, which hopes to create respect for and understanding of subcultures. From what she can see around her, it is a slow process, and one hindered by an increasingly generic society.

“I think it’s two fold: in reality people from alternative subcultures are bubbling under, [but] they keep out of the way, to themselves, they do not report [incidents], or go to the police and why would they when they can be ridiculed there; ‘it’s their fault, if they didn’t dress like that they would be attacked’.

“We are becoming more homogenised, more mainstream. Look at David Beckham, a prime example, with the tattoos, etc. They are taking more alt styles and wearing them.”

In addition to the co-opting of traditionally alternative styles into mainstream culture, she also says: “I think a lot of people who are alternative and who were in the 80s and 90s have grown up but have not changed, but they have conformed during the week but dress up at the weekends.”

As for the current generation: “Perhaps it’s what young people are like — they rebel against their parents.”

A paucity of research into this area might explain why the bullying of young people who belong to subcultures is not prioritised at school or community level, but Sylvia believes it needs to be addressed.

“I think, honestly, it’s education, education all the way,” she says,

“Maybe teaching them from earlier age... earlier than we do now.

“Thirty years on I think the majority of young people in school realise race is not issue any more because a lot of work was put into it.

“We need educational resources, because a lot of it is fear, a fear of difference, and that is what we find. If we can tell people that it’s not acceptable, they might start to get the message.”

sophielancasterfoundation.com

Picture: Sophie Lancaster, 20, and her boyfriend were beaten to death in Lancashire in 2007 because of their image.

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